HBO has a new show, or follow up on Ted Haggard. Haggard was the founding pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He was also the President of the National Association of Evangelicals and was one of the leading voices in the so-called Religious Right and a leading critic of the alleged ‘gay lifestyle,’ and ‘homosexual agenda.’
He went to a male prostitute for a massage, I am guessing, with extras, and purchased some meth. It became apparent that Haggard was living two lives. One was the life of the righteous preacher against sin and one was the life of a man struggling with his sexual orientation who was acting out. His two worlds were in a major collision course with each other and the two lives ultimately did collide.
New Life Church demonstrated the compassion to Haggard that Haggard had shown to those who were gay and terminated him and forced him to leave Colorado. Despite the fact that Haggard had pastored a church that claimed that they could ‘cure’ gay people, when he announced a few weeks later that he was ‘cured’ of his homosexual tendencies, nothing changed. Either they didn’t believe that Haggard was truly ‘cured’ or they didn’t believe that which they taught.
There are lots of lessons in this tale of woe and it is a tale of woe.
The first lesson is a condemnation of the sin of self-righteousness. For those people who actually have read the New Testament, most especially the Gospels, in totality, without treating the Bible like a series of fortunes in fortune cookies, the Gospels indicate two major sins. The first sin is not caring for the poor and the second sin is the sin of self-righteousness. The vast majority of Jesus’ diatribes against the Scribes and the Pharisees were times of scolding them for their self-righteousness. They believed that they set the religious and ethical agendas and anyone who disagreed with them or lived lives contrary to what they were preaching were sinners.
A lesson of Christianity is a lesson about not judging others and the lesson comes because judging others is something that not only often bounces back to us but because no one is truly worthy to judge other people.
Ted Haggard, I suspect, was probably a very sincere man in his preaching and his beliefs when he as the Pastor of New Life Church but he fell into the trap of self-righteousness. Sadly, as often happens, the more he preached on the subject of sexuality the further he fell into his own personal whirlwind and his life grew into a self-fulfilling nightmare.
It is said that churches often, eventually, embrace the cumulative preaching of a pastor. As Haggard grew increasingly self-righteous, he taught his congregation to be likewise. Ultimately he paid the price for his own sermons.
The second thing is this. Human sexuality is complicated. When we throw phrases around like gay lifestyle and homosexual agenda, they carry an implied belief about sexual orientation, most especially a gay orientation. The implication is that being gay or straight is a choice. You’ll note that most people who believe this never use the words sexual orientation and instead use the words sexual preference. When we use a word like ‘prefer’ is means that something is a choice.
Sexual orientation is not a choice. It is an orientation. The complexity of sexual orientation is that no one really knows why people are as they are. It is nature, nurture, or both? Is it genetic or hormonal, or both? There are people who claim to know the answers, but most of these people end up being proven wrong. We really do not have a grasp as to why people are the way they are. This ends up leading to the thing that some people delight or dread hearing. We are how God has made us. This is a simple answer with huge ramifications. If we are as God created us then God loves us as we are. And does God call for people who he has created, who he loves as they are, to be lonely and miserable?
These are complicated questions and are questions that challenge churches.
I recently met a young pastor, from another denomination, who pastored two rural congregations. They were both rather small, but through his hard work, dedication, and love of God, grew. In fact, the two churches doubled in size and the people of the two churches loved this young man as their pastor.
He is gay. He belongs to a rather hierarchical denomination and the outside authority terminated him on the spot. He could not preach, he could not write, he could not say good bye. The churches are in tatters----not because their pastor was gay but because he was no longer their pastor. They grew to love him as he was and who he loved in life was of no concern to them any longer. These two small congregations were willing to face complex questions but the hierarchy of their denomination would not.
As for Ted Haggard, everyone is trying to figure him out. I heard a therapist make an observation that Haggard and his wife are living a lie. One blogger said, unequivocally said that his wife needs to leave him. The problem is that to say such things is to enter, again, into the realm of self-righteous behavior. WE know better than these people.
Alas, leave the man alone and let him live his life.